At midnight on March 23, 1912, a mob hanged Sanford Lewis from a trolley pole in Forth Smith, Arkansas. Lewis was suspected of shooting Deputy Constable Andy Carr in the head.
According to reports, on the night of March 23, 1912, several black men and women had been arrested for disturbing the peace at the corners of 10th and Garrison streets. One man escaped and was pursued by detective Pitcock, Carr, and John Williams, who was later identified as a local horse trader.
Several shots were fired at the man running by Pitcock, he then gave the gun to Williams, who chased Lewis to the Pony Express office at 10th and A streets. He managed to knock Lewis down but he was able to escape again. A gun shot was heard and Williams saw Carr was down. Williams managed to catch Lewis and continued beating him until Officer Lacey arrived. Williams was turned over to Lacey and Carr taken to the hospital.
Lacey, followed by a large crowd, took Lewis to the jail. A mob of almost 1,000 people gathered in front of the jail and spent over an hour trying to break down the door. The police officers reportedly stood by while this was happening. Failing to break down the door, members of the mob pried off the bars on a window, and six men crawled through into the jail. They found Lewis hiding in a dark corner of his cell, reportedly “on his knees and pleading for mercy.” The men pushed Lewis through the window, and he was beaten.
Lewis was beat so badly that what was coming out his body was unrecognizable. “Half dead, but yet pleading for mercy, he was strung up to a cross arm while the frenzied mob cheered.”
Some residents of Fort Smith were outraged that authorities had made no attempt to stop the mob. Mayor Fagan Bourland criticized the police department, saying that he himself “could have stopped the mob with three men,” and questioned the evidence in the case. No one involved in the incident saw Lewis with a knife, and the only revolver found at the scene belonged to Carr. Coroner Hugh Johnston scheduled an inquest to determine whether Lewis had fired the shot or whether Carr was accidentally hit by a stray bullet.
On March 26, the Gazette reported that the grand jury had met. The grand jury heard from two eyewitnesses: J. F. Brewer and William Walker. Although their testimony was not public, they reportedly testified that Lewis did not shoot Carr. Hon told the grand jury members that they did not need to know the identities of mob members to return indictments
In the meantime, the city council had suspended Chief of Police Bryant L. Barry—as well as the night captain Sam Smart, chief of detectives Pitcock, and night jailer J. S. Stansberry—for their inaction when the mob attacked the jail.
On March 28, John C. Stowers was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for leading the mob. (In 1910, thirty-seven-year-old Stowers was living in Fort Smith with his wife and two daughters and working as a carpenter.) A short time later, authorities arrested and jailed gambler Sam Smith as an “accessory before the fact of the crime of murder” for demanding the keys from the jailer. According to excerpts from the Southwest American, Smith had a record of petty larceny and vagrancy, and his brother, Walter, had served a term in the penitentiary for forgery. Eight police officers were also indicted.
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